Let’s not even mention last night’s debacle loss…except to say…WTF?! Oh…and to say this one last thing: Is last night’s loss really that damaging? If you thought the Cardinals were going to win out to finish the season…you were letting your optimism run away with you. The reality was that the Cards were going to lose at least one more game before the end of the season. The fact that it happened in such a gut-wrenching, dramatic fashion was the truly painful part…and perhaps destiny. With the magic the Cardinals have been showing night after night, are we really surprised that it took an equally epic fail by the bullpen to achieve the inevitable…a loss to interrupt the end-of-season streak? From that perspective, yesterday’s loss was tragically epic – but it wasn’t all that damaging…or unexpected. Most expected the Cards’ best chance at the Wild Card saw them entering Friday’s game with a 2 game deficit – as opposed to 3. The concept of a mere 1 game deficit was pure fantasy.
Okay…let’s move on.
Tonight, the Cardinals throw Carpenter against the Cubs in Busch Stadium in what has become a must win scenario. Carp has been pitching like The Ace again, and Tony supposedly shuffled the rotation to take advantage of his late-season return to excellence and give him one more turn before season’s end. Assuming the Cardinals can defeat the hated Cubs with Carp on the mound (and again, if they can’t…the Braves deserve the Wild Card spot), then the Cardinals hopes rest on the young arm of Strasburg in Washington. The Braves counter with Hudson…but you have to like the Nats chances.
Flash forward to tomorrow: If the Cards win and the Braves lose, the Cards enter Saturday’s game 1 game back with 5 to go. At that point, it’s simple…the Cards simply need to keep pace until the Braves falter only once. Of those five final games for the Cardinals, they face the Cubs twice in Busch and the Astros three times in Houston. Each pitcher in the starting five gets one more opportunity to make his mark on the 2011 season. One game, one victory, one five game winning streak (exactly how the Cardinals finished 2010, by the way).
The Braves? They must face the Phillies for their final three in a series that will surely attract national attention. Why is the national attention important? Because Charlie Manuel is on record with the media…he’s all but promised to respect the sanctity of the races and employ the best possible lineup for the stretch run (a strategy that could backfire on Manuel if the Cardinals make the post-season and draw the Phillies). Of course, ol’ Charlie would be nuts to waste his rotation the last series of the season rather than set them up comfortably for the first round of the playoffs. That means any or all of the Big 3 (Halladay, Lee, Oswalt) likely won’t make an appearance (I could maybe see a 3 – 5 inning appearance by one or two of them as a bullpen/workout start on turn, but that’s it).
So…that’s it. The Cardinals must win tonight and pray Strasburg is all he’s cracked up to be at the same time. The Braves must fall…and Carpenter must be The Ace…tonight AND his final start of the regular season. If all goes according to plan and the Cardinals end the season in a Wild Card tie with the Braves…it’s appropriate that Edwin Jackson’s turn comes due the day the “play-in” game would take place in St. Louis.
The Cardinals’ playoff hopes and 2011 season could rest on that fateful trade in July that sent Rasmus to Toronto and brought Jackson to St. Louis.
UPDATE: Hearing reports that rain is in the forecast for the Braves/Nats game tonight. Also hearing double-header tomorrow could be the best way to address a cancelled game. This could be good news for the Cards. Winning both games of a doulbe-header…especially on the road…can be VERY tough…especially in the heat of a playoff race. Of course, I think the Braves won 2 in New York in just that fashion…but twice in one season can’t happen…right?
Update 2: Oops…looks like Lohse is going to be the pitcher on Thursday…if we make it…not Jackson. My bad. Ugh…it’s been one of those weeks, folks.